Web Exclusives

Still Crazy

by Mike Gerrard / photos by author

Business is booming for the biggest still maker in the United States. At Vendome Copper in Louisville, Kentucky, Vice President Mike Sherman is trying to decide how much copper they'll need in six months' time.

"You have to plan up to six months ahead," he says, "in order to get the deliveries. We have to keep a good stock. If Jack Daniel's wants a new still, we have to be able to do it!"

Sherman needs to plan ahead as the company's copper has to be ordered from Germany. "I'd like to use US materials," he says, "but in the States you can only get copper up to 36 inches wide and we prefer bigger sheets. They're better and easier to work with. We go up to 72 inches wide and mills in the U.S. just don't do that.'
   At Vendome Copper in Louisville.

There are two reasons for Vendome's boom in business: bourbon and craft distilling.
"There's a great demand for stills right now," says Sherman, whose great-grandfather started Vendome Copper in 1904. It's remained very much a family company, with Sherman being the fourth generation, and working alongside his sister and two cousins. They have 15 office employees and 60 at work making stills at their factory in eastern Louisville, a home run away from the Louisville Slugger Field.

"We've got some of the best copper workers in the USA working here," Sherman claims, "and as well as the United States we've done work in Ireland, Romania, Swaziland, Russia, Jamaica, France, China . . . loads of places!"

When the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States began work on rebuilding George Washington's distillery on his Mount Vernon estate, they called on Vendome Copper to recreate the historic stills from the original distillery plans.

Vendome is the only company in the United States making large stills on the industrial scale that a company like Jack Daniel's requires, but supplying smaller stills for craft distilleries now makes up 65% of their business.
 A Vendome Copper worker.  
With the craft distilleries," Sherman explains, "we started getting our first calls way back in 1999 but the big boom really started in 2009. It was about then when the legislation in different states began to change. We could tell when it happened in a particular state as we'd suddenly get maybe 50 calls in a week from the same state."

In 2009 Sherman says that Vendome Copper built stills for about 12 to 18 craft distilleries. In 2010 it was about 24, and in 2014 they're on target to build 60 to 100 stills for craft distilleries.

In addition to the craft distilleries, there's been a boom in the rum business and the company has built stills in Jamaica, Trinidad and the Virgin Islands. At the same time the bourbon market has been growing rapidly.
You've also got microbreweries and wineries expanding by building distilleries," Sherman adds. "Suddenly everyone wants to make a bourbon, and they'll start with a vodka or gin to get their name out there while the bourbon is aging."

But the best time for Kentucky's Vendome Copper was definitely when neighboring Tennessee changed the state liquor laws.

Tennessee was definitely the best," Sherman laughs. "You got all these moonshiners saying, 'Hey, we're going to go legal!'"


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